American Airlines has agreed to pay $200 million for a stake in China Southern Airlines, one of China's three major state-owned carriers, in a bid for a bigger share of the country's growing travel market, the AP reports. China Southern will expand commercial cooperation, possibly in sales, airport facilities, and code-sharing, the airline said in an announcement Tuesday through the Hong Kong stock exchange. The deal represents 2.76% of China Southern's shares and requires regulatory approval, the airline said. China Southern is the biggest of China's three major state-owned carriers by passenger volume, but it's known for sometimes haphazard service, with flights delayed or canceled with little notice.
China is forecast to overtake North America over the next two decades as the biggest air travel market, and foreign carriers are forging steadily closer ties with Chinese airlines to gain a bigger share of China's market, which is growing rapidly while travel in Europe and North America is leveling off. In exchange, Chinese carriers get access to the experience and management skills of foreign airlines. Two years ago, Delta Air Lines paid $450 million for 3.55% of China Eastern Airlines. The third major US carrier, United Airlines, has a partnership with Air China, the third major Chinese government-owned airline.